Shannon Kinney, founder of Dream Local Digital, discusses the evolving landscape of digital advertising and how trust is also a secret sauce for news media in selling advertising. With her extensive experience and accolades, including serving on the board for the Local Media Association and being named Local Digital Innovator of the Year, Shannon offers invaluable insights into strategies for local news organizations to adapt and thrive in a digital-first world. We delve into the importance of a client-forward approach instead of a product-focused approach, the potential of digital services beyond advertising, and the unique advantages local newspapers hold in trust and local knowledge.

Episode chapters:
(03:24) – Does digital advertising mean low margin?
(06:44) – Going beyond selling audience to selling solutions
(11:26) – Trust is a local newspaper’s key competitive advantage
(14:37) – Learning digital solutions to help a client best tell their story
(17:48) – Storytelling and local knowledge as key differentiators
(24:24) – Tell a story about your other key differentiator, your print product and digital brand
(31:12) – Using AI on the sales side
(35:04) – Partnering to provide digital solutions
(38:16) – Selling as a client partner
(42:28) – The menu of services

Listen to the episode here:

Links:

Bio:

Shannon Kinney is a seasoned startup founder and executive with over 25 years of experience. She is considered a thought leader in the online space, and is a highly sought after keynote speaker, advisor and consultant. With deep experience in sales, marketing, online product development and leadership, Dream Local Digital is her third nationally-scaled digital marketing solution company. She founded the company in 2009 “to bring the power of online marketing to small and medium sized businesses”, and also to master the craft of how to make SMBs successful on social media. She has a wide and highly engaged network of leaders in media, technology, and startups worldwide, and has developed Dream Local Digital to be a widely recognized brand as best of breed in social media fulfillment.

Dream Local Digital works with thousands of small and medium-sized businesses, media companies and ad agencies on online marketing strategies. Kinney is a seasoned startup executive with large scale launches such as cars.com, Knight Ridder Digital / Real Cities, Careerbuilder.com and Apartments.com. She was named MaineBiz Woman to Watch 2013, Local Digital Innovator of the Year by Local Media Association in 2015, Maine Women’s Network Business Leadership award, Small Business of the Year & Innovative Company of the year by Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce, a 2016 Maine Icon and several other honors and awards. Kinney has over 25 years consulting experience working with media companies large and small globally with their Web strategies and revenue generation, business plan and strategy development, sales, partnerships, research, analysis, and more. 

Full transcript:

(recorded via Riverside.fm; transcript automated via Castmagic.io, mostly unedited)

Shannon Kinney [00:00:00]:The biggest thing that newspapers have in their favor is trust, trust in their brands. And one thing I can tell you is it could take eight, 12 touch points on my side to get in the door of the business. Whereas a newspaper can get a door open pretty darn quickly. And so to distinguish themselves, a client-forward approach, not a product approach, recognizing that advertising is just one piece of the pie and shouldn't be their lead and recommendation to everyone, and hustle is what'll make them stand out. 

Tim Regan-Porter [00:00:41]: Welcome to the Local News Matters podcast, where we explore pathways to stronger journalism, better businesses, and healthier communities. I'm Tim Regan-Porter, CEO of the Colorado Press Association. In each episode, I sit down with guests from newsrooms and others in the local news ecosystem to highlight the innovative work of local newsrooms and those that support them, as well as the crucial questions they face.  

This episode, my guest is Shannon Kinney, the founder of Dream Local Digital, a digital marketing agency serving small and medium-sized businesses. With a decade of service on the board for the Local Media Association and accolades such as the Local Digital Innovator of the Year award, Shannon brings a wealth of experience and insight to the table. In our discussion, we delve into the evolving landscape of digital advertising, the critical role of trust in media, and strategies for local news organizations to adapt and succeed in a digital-first world. 

If you like this episode and what we're doing more generally, please follow in your favorite podcast app, leave us a five-star review on Apple Podcasts, and tell your friends about us. This is a side project and a labor of love, and your support means a lot. You can find past episodes, full transcripts, and relevant links, and sign up for our newsletter at localnewsmatterspodcast.com, or for lazy typists like me at lnmpod.com. You also follow us on most social media channels @lnmpod.  

And now I bring you Shannon Kinney. 

Well, welcome, Shannon. Glad to have you on the podcast. 

Kinney [00:01:58]: Thank you for having me. It's exciting to be here. 

Regan-Porter [00:02:01]: So why don't we start off with you telling the audience a little bit about you and your background and Dream Local, and why you started it, and what you do? 

Kinney [00:02:11]: Sure. I started in the media industry in print when I was actually 15 or 16 years old. I started by interning at my local newspaper, and I was just so excited to be selling advertising and helping businesses really get seen. And throughout my career, that has been like a foundational experience for me, really exciting. In the late nineties, I worked to help my local newspaper get up online and develop revenue streams around the web. And from there, I went to several online media company startups, including cars.com, Knight Ridder Digital across the US, and CareerBuilder and more. And I started Dream Local Digital 15 years ago this week because I really wanted to help small businesses be found online and have success. But really, one of my primary drivers was helping media companies transform and bring digital solutions in that they could offer to their clients, because I just felt like, you know, the way people got news and information as well as shopping tips was just gonna change radically with the Internet. 

Does digital advertising mean low margin? 

Regan-Porter [00:03:24]: So let's talk a little bit about your thoughts on maybe the most effective way for a local news organization, particularly those coming from a print background, to think about how they approach digital advertising as a business themselves, and then how they think about clients. It's quite an evolution, I think, for everybody. You know, I think a lot of people come to digital advertising from a newspaper background with some skepticism. You know, the phrase “digital dimes for print dollars,” and they see the margin is low. And at the same time, they know where readership is going and where advertising revenue, you know, writ large has gone already. And so they know they need to be in the game, and they're having a hard time figuring out how they make that work. So what would you advise someone, you know, a publisher with that, coming in with that mindset? 

Kinney [00:04:20]: Well, I can say that I've been working with media companies in transformation for more than 27 years now. And it's true. It's not easy. It's also not new. Right? Nobody's trailblazing here when we're trying to transform organizations from a traditional model to a new model. And I'd also say, you know, I really disagree with low margins. I think when you're only selling advertising, that is a very transactional experience. Google and Facebook and companies like them largely took media companies' market share right out of their hands some time ago on that, and it is still an important tool for a small business and your clients care about it. 

Kinney [00:05:05]: But there are a variety of other digital services that media companies should develop the sales acumen to sell that are not low margins, that can be in the 40, 50% margins. I know that there are publishers listening to this rolling over thinking that 40 or 50% is a small margin, but it's just the old print world is not coming back. And so it's time for us to find ways to really do what your mission is about, which is taking your audience and matching them to your advertisers. Right? Informing, inspiring communities and helping businesses thrive within those communities. And to do that, we just need different tools now and strategies. But I think the last thing I'll say on that is, I continually hear from media companies all over the US and beyond talking about how challenging it is to get their sales teams to have the skill levels to sell. And you know what? It isn't easy. I've been doing sales training for more than two decades now in digital. 

Kinney [00:06:15]: I sell every day myself, and I agree it's very different, and takes a lot more hustle than selling print advertising does. There's no doubt about it that that's a challenge that needs to be overcome, but it needs to be overcome. Right? There needs to be either training or bring in partners who can do some of the selling for you or some solution, so that you can close that gap between what the advertiser's looking for and what you can offer. 

Going beyond selling audience to selling solutions 

Regan-Porter [00:06:44]: Sure. So I wanna come back to what some of those products and services with the decent margins are. But first, I wanna talk to your point about the mission. So from an advertising side of the business, connecting audiences and, businesses. You know, one of the transitions in thinking that I've been kind of working my own way through and how to articulate it is, you know, if you roll back the clock 30 years ago, local newspapers were the essentially Googles and Facebooks of their town. Right? They were the they were the center of a lot of civic life. They were how people found their information, and that was how people found out also about the businesses. And the businesses wanted their local media, you know, to work with them because that was really the only way to reach their audiences, their potential customers. 

Regan-Porter [00:07:40]: And so, largely, who who didn't have to work as hard to sell, people came to us and we sold audience, and that was kind of the end of it. But they came to us because they had a a business need, a marketing need that we solved. And I think realizing that you're not just selling an audience, you are there to help those businesses connect with their communities, is a kind of a different mindset. So just saying, hey, we saw we can sell you a print ad, we can sell you a banner ad, and we can throw in Facebook and Google with it is very different than being a marketing partner and saying, how do we help you get your message out to the right people? And that's something you and I have talked about, you know, previously. So can you talk a little bit about that shift in mindset of what you're really there to do and who you're there to serve and what are you actually selling? 

Kinney [00:08:32]: Yeah. You know, advertising is one important component of a business's needs to market themselves, but it's only one. Right? And if you're, if you're thinking about what businesses are really looking for from their newspapers, they're looking for a trusted environment and brand to be affiliated with. And they're looking for a trusted advisor, someone to guide them through their marketing. And that role has just evolved and become much more complex. And trust me, your clients feel the same way. Right? 

Kinney [00:09:06]: They liked it when they could call the radio station and the local newspaper, maybe a weekly and a daily and their job was done. Right? They don't love that it's that complicated either. But the point is it is, right? It's a very fragmented marketplace and businesses need to be a lot more understanding of opportunities of how to reach their audience in a clever way and in a meaningful way with the right reach and frequency to make them compelled to take action. So advertising is something that's important to sell, but for me at Dream Local Digital that's a tiny piece of our business. It's not the primary piece of the business. 

Kinney [00:09:41]: We sell website development. You know, a business needs help reaching audiences. We do email marketing, for them on their behalf to purchase or rented lists. And when we're working with media partners, also sponsorships of media newsletters, email newsletters, which is a really effective way to reach people. We help businesses find ways to reach clients on social, both through organic and paid, but we do a lot with organic and creating content that is compelling and causes people to take action is something newspapers have deep experience in. We're just not in control of the distribution vehicle anymore. We have to make sure our client is wherever their audience is. And whether it's in print, on our websites, on the newspapers' websites, on the newspapers' social channels, on other social channels, that's important. 

Kinney [00:10:33]: SEO, or helping businesses show up in search, is a fast, one of the fastest-growing segments in most of the businesses that I'm talking to every day. And Dream Local Digital has helped almost 70,000 businesses in our 15 years, many of them with newspaper partners all over the all over the, North America, actually. And they're looking for someone they can trust because this is very confusing for them, too. And they want to know that somebody is going to lose sleep and be as passionate about driving results in their business as they are, which is a very different relationship than selling print ads, which is, you know, that's how I got started too. You know, I used to walk around town in my newspapers and sell ads that way, but, now businesses are looking for advice, guidance, and someone who cares about their brand, versus throwing a rate card their way. 

Trust is a local newspaper’s key competitive advantage 

Regan-Porter [00:11:26]: Sure. I wanna talk a little bit about something you mentioned there with content. But before we get to specifically content as an area of, that's something that newspapers and news media have an expertise in. One of the things I hear when I talk with, you know, business leaders in the media as they're thinking about this evolution is when they think about digital advertising, in particular, of course, we're talking about more than advertising. But one of the things they say is, well, what's our distinctiveness? Like, you know, any all these other digital agency firms, they throw up their shingle. And I just don't know how much I wanna invest in this, because I don't know how we stand out to those other firms. And so content's one area, which I wanna come to second. But what before you get to content, are there other things that you point to as a reason that they really need to invest in this and and figure out what how they do leverage what they have? 

Kinney [00:12:23]: The biggest thing that newspapers have in their favor is trust. Trust in their brands. And I sell about 50% of Dream Local Digital's business is direct, like me or my team selling to a small business, and about 50% is coming through a media partner in some way. And one thing I can tell you is it could take eight, 12 touch points on my side to get in the door for the business. Whereas a newspaper can get a door open pretty darn quickly. And so to distinguish themselves, a client-forward approach, not a product approach, recognizing that advertising is just one piece of the pie and shouldn't be their lead and recommendation to everyone, and hustle is what'll make them stand out because I would love what—any city I'm in, where I have a newspaper brand over my name, instead of Dream Local Digital, we can get in anywhere we wanna go. And it's a much different ballgame when you're selling direct, which is what I do. I have to talk to people a lot to get appointments in a way I wouldn't if I was a media company. 

Kinney [00:13:26]: And then I'd say outstanding service is a big part, but that does not mean that a media company needs to do fulfillment on their own, but the media company knows the market, knows the client in many cases has generations of experience with those local businesses. They know the community events, the things that the business cares about, and they have an insider's view to what's happening locally. That is a huge distinct advantage over any of us in the agency side who are really just talking about tactics and strategy, but we are likely very not at all connected locally the way a newspaper would be. And so those are assets that are a tremendous amount. I worked with a newspaper on a client recently where we were trying to create something really compelling about the business's history, and the newspaper went back in the archives and they had pictures going back 50 years of that business that the client didn't even have. That's just one tiny example of ways that a newspaper can distinguish themselves. And it's about how you execute, but that trust is just, it's immensely valuable. 

Learning digital solutions to help a client best tell their story 

Regan-Porter [00:14:37]: I love the client focus instead of product focus and the relationship there. And I think we undervalue that sometimes. And one of the reasons I think that happens too is because we're used to selling a product, and we know that product inside and out. And digital is so overwhelming. There are just so many components to it, and it can get very technical and technocratic, very detailed very quickly. And so you don't feel equipped to even have that conversation. So, and, you know, as you said, you can partner with people, but how do you how do you advise sales teams on how to even get comfortable with starting that conversation even if you're bringing in a partner? 

Kinney [00:15:17]: Yeah. Absolutely. It's selling space, like print ad space or banner ad space is not a challenging thing to sell because it's not a deep conversation you're having with a client, right? Like it's, what do you want in this box? And the effectiveness of that alone has dwindled significantly over the past years. And so it's really time for media companies to master our craft and up our game and be willing to do the work it takes to at least, at minimum, understand a lot more about the company's needs and be needs-based selling versus, solution or product selling, and think about how you add value, advocating for that client with your solution provider, whether it's a design team internally or whether it's a vendor partner, relationship. It's about really getting that customer and who they are and what they need. And that just takes more work. I mean, that's just the, it's the long and short of it. It takes a lot more work and hustle. 

Kinney [00:16:21]: That said, I did a basic training earlier this year that was free to any anybody in the US, any media company. It was like in just a couple hours, I showed them the key to becoming a trusted advisor is really that listening and a couple key questions to ask in the beginning, but also just understanding not the technology or how the sausage is made, but just what are these different tactics and how do they work together, even if you don't sell them. Right? Like, don't advise a client not to use SEO if they're a plumber because they probably really need that. Right? And you're trusted by just understanding how they work together. At the conclusion of the session, one of our attendees, who had been out of the business for a decade raising her small children and had just come back to a local radio station to work, went out and sold a 30-page website. I didn't talk at all about technology. And most of your clients don't want to either. They want to express themselves in a website or an email or in social. 

Kinney [00:17:23]: And your job is to help them tell their story, which newspapers are uniquely qualified to serve in that capacity. And, you know, very few clients wanna get into the weeds when it comes to some of the technology stuff. For our partners, when they do, like, sometimes car dealers wanna talk cost per lead or really get into the weeds. They're having those conversations with us under the brand of the newspaper. They're not torturing the sales team with that typically. 

Storytelling and local knowledge as key differentiators 

Regan-Porter [00:17:48]: Yeah. So let's dig into that just a little bit. The storytelling aspect that we are qualified to do. That should be something that I think we should, you know, we should leverage that. That's a unique strength, and we have centuries of, in many cases, for these outlets of doing that. Yes. A lot of it is journalism, and, you know, there's an appropriate separation between marketing and journalism, but you have those storytelling skills. You don't want your reporter, you know, writing about writing an ad for the business they're covering. So it's probably a separate team, but it's still as an institution, you understand story, you understand audience, you understand making those connections. 

Kinney [00:18:33]: It's so true. And I spent more than 10 years on the board of the Local Media Association. And one of the projects that they have that is just something to be proud of is the Branded Content Project. And in that project, which is still live today, and very much thriving, They have news organizations and there, they are separate teams for the most part in there, learning how to do storytelling and get paid for it, you know, with branded and sponsored content on the newspaper website, the newspaper social channels, the client's website. And that's just one of the tactics where a business just wants to express themselves and attract new clients, new traffic, foot traffic, whatever their primary mission is. And a news organization or a newspaper sales teams and marketing teams are uniquely qualified to understand at minimum how to get that story out of the business and how to, you know, folks like me or anybody can distribute that stuff. Right? We'll get you out on any social channel you want, email, wherever you want, but it's that knowing that local market, that local business in a way, that's really unique. And I think even if you have businesses in your market that are national, they need that even more. 

Kinney [00:19:52]: Right? And they may not be a customer of the newspaper, but they can be a great customer on the digital side for you, particularly when you go, you know, a storytelling-forward point of view. It's a very distinguishing capability set. 

Regan-Porter [00:20:04]: And I'll just throw in here, you know, obviously, or maybe not completely obviously, you wanna protect your own brand as a news organization. So if you are running this branded content, it needs to be appropriately labeled. I know some publishers are a little reticent when they hear the word, the phrase branded content because of things like the excellent piece John Oliver did on branded content, sponsored content. And that was more TV-focused, but where the the line between what is editorial and what is paid for by an advertiser was blurred. And so you have to keep that in mind, and it doesn't do…. 

Kinney [00:20:46]: It's so important. But newspapers have been doing special sections for decades and decades. Right? Like, there has always been some level of sponsored or advertorial content. And it's important when you sell it to be really clear with the advertiser about expectations about that line. But I think one thing I've learned, particularly in smaller markets is your readers care about the 10th anniversary of that local store or that, you know, somebody new has bought the pizza place. That's news in a local market. And it's important to recognize that while, you know, hard journalism and investigative journalism and that important work of holding power to account is a critical part of the mission, that your readership cares about this too, and it should help underwrite the journalism. Right? So it's important to find a way to make that model work, and don't assume your readers don't care about it because they do. 

Regan-Porter [00:21:51]: And as you pointed out, advertising is content that readers can value and often do. And, you know, I came from a magazine background. Bridal magazines, people bought them more for the advertising than the editorial. Any newspaper publisher knows they have a lot of customers who would pick up the Sunday edition to get the Arby's coupons or whatever was there. People do value knowing what businesses are out there and what they're up to. 

Kinney [00:22:18]: Yeah. In Maine, many, many years ago, it started. There was a, website called Village Soup, and it's since been purchased by an advertising, a newspaper group. Excuse me. But their model was a third. One third is hard journalism, one third is community voices, like maybe a blogger, the head of the Chamber of Commerce, somebody talking about issues in the community, and a third was news from businesses. Right? And we had 40 or 50 clients at any given time. We were writing that, and my team was one of the top reporters for many years because we got our articles got read a lot, like people care about that stuff or, you know, that there's a pet vaccination clinic at the local, you know, pet store. 

Kinney [00:23:05]: So I do think it's important to understand values and the separation of church and state, but I think it's important to also recognize that this stuff is really relevant. 

Regan-Porter [00:23:18]: You know, one of the things that digital advertising brings you as a news organization is previously you were selling to your readership. And in print that is generally declining digitally. It's actually holding pretty strong. But if you're reaching 80% of the market, digitally and print combined, you know, there's still 20% you're not reaching, and digital advertising can often get you into that 20%, and it can get you in multiple touch points with that 80%. And it gets you beyond your local audience. So people who are driving through your market and want to know where to eat or what events are going on, you now have good marketing tools to reach them and, you know, help your advertisers reach them. 

Kinney [00:24:03]: Absolutely. And in Colorado, you have so many beautiful markets that draw people in, you know, from elsewhere and digital really offers a unique opportunity to, you know, put your advertisers in front of those people who are flying in to go skiing or hiking or any of the other beautiful things that they can do in Colorado. 

Tell a story about your other key differentiator, your print product and digital brand 

Regan-Porter [00:24:24]: Yeah. So let me talk about the flip side, though. So if you're really taking this to heart and you're going to potential advertisers as a partner to help them meet their marketing and business needs, and you've got these great digital tools to help them do that. You also, in most cases, don't want to ignore your core brand and your core product. You want to help them understand the value of your news audience and your news product, whether that's print or digital. So how do you think about balancing, you know, we can do everything for you, but we've also got this great editorial product with readers that are highly valuable, and you need to have that as part of your mix. 

Kinney [00:25:09]: Absolutely. It's another way that a newspaper can distinguish themselves from other agencies is the quality of that product. And, you know, Burrell Associates data for several years in a row has shown that advertisers prefer to buy them together. They prefer to have opportunities. Okay. Here's how I'm covering the core local audience with the newspaper print and website, and then here's how I'm extending my reach beyond that audience. I do believe it's our responsibility to tell the story of how they all work together, to offer reach and frequency to your point of that multiple touch points. But the context, and if we're putting an ad on a social channel, it should support the ad that is also in the newspaper, and there should be a cohesion to how the products work together to help that advertiser achieve your goal. 

Kinney [00:26:05]: But cannibalization is natural. It's not something that our ignoring digital helps. In fact, I think the industry has, you know, spent a couple decades trying that. But that said, you do need to tell a story about it. And so many local advertisers that I see when I'm in newspaper markets are proud to be affiliated with the local newspaper. And digital is important, but also things like events and coupling, you know, an event where you're out in the field with the businesses, and then you're helping them reach clients online and in the print product just shows that sort of full-circle marketing solution that local, that agencies just can't match. 

Regan-Porter [00:26:48]: And how do you think about brand safety in terms of news organizations? So, you know, clearly, brand safety has become an issue for Twitter and some other digital outlets that newspapers can point to. But I know some advertisers are afraid of advertising in news because they don't wanna be next to, you know, the political or crime story. You know? Yeah. How do you how do you recommend people talk about that? 

Kinney [00:27:12]: That's a really, really good point, Tim, because I think, you know, I've mentioned trust multiple times today, and I think there is no outlet in a local market more qualified to discuss brand safety than a newspaper, in particular, out of all the kinds of media that we deal with. Brand safety is important, and it's where you as a trusted advisor, as a newspaper publisher or sales executive, can tell a story about how you know how to handle that brand. Right. And is an ad for a airplane or plane discounts gonna be at one time on a page talking about a plane crash. I mean, we're all, we've all of us in media have been terrified of that happening our entire careers, But when it comes to having respect for a brand, understanding how to engage your audience and tell the truth in what you're saying. You know, nobody is more capable of that than newspapers. And online, you know, you mentioned AI earlier. Online, you have people that aren't as responsible with their brands, like X currently, which is just a painful train wreck to watch, or you have people that, like what Sports Illustrated has just gone through, where they were leveraging AI too much, and not being honest that, you know, pieces weren't being written by a reporter. 

Kinney [00:28:34]: So I think it's important to talk about the processes and standards that your newspaper has and apply those standards on the sales side as well, in how you handle that client and their brand and also the expectations that you set. If you're buying branded content with us, it will be in this area. Here's what you can expect for us, but it's not gonna be front-page news. It's gonna be in this way. So I think, you know, brand safety as well as, you know, expectation settings is pretty important. 

Regan-Porter [00:29:07]: And I think we need to tell that trust story more. Because if you look at, you know, national polls, even sometimes statewide polls, if you just ask about media in general, a lot of times people are gonna, you know, they're gonna immediately think of highly partisan news outlets or whatever news outlets they don't think of. But if you ask them about their local newspaper, their local radio station, you get a very different result, even statewide. So I have just earlier today, my lobbyist forward me a a poll that showed trust in Colorado reporters was okay, not great. But we've had other polls, surveys, third party studies, academic studies, and you when you ask about their local outlet, it's a very different thing. So even at a statewide level, you know, they might think of that, editorial guy on TV who's always spouting off the opinions they don't like or, you know, they think of whatever outlets they don't like. But their local institutions, they tend to hold in reverie, particularly in smaller markets. 

Kinney [00:30:10]: Yeah. I think that's true. And I think when you see polling numbers that are lower, I would posit that you would find that that's fairly standard nationally. Right? I think the deep divide, politically in our country has really caused, a trust challenge for media overall. But there's a huge difference between local news coverage and national or political or issue-driven coverage. And I would agree with you that both advertisers and readers alike, you know, feel strong about about their local publications, and they want also to see those publications survive. Right? Which is, you know, I can't help it. I feel mission driven when I'm working with media companies to help them find sustainable business models because it's key to their survival. 

Kinney [00:31:05]: Right? Like, we have to learn how to sell this stuff, guys. Like, you know, because we need to support support our important work. 

Using AI on the sales side 

Regan-Porter [00:31:12]: And I think that's an important message too. But, you know, I've been wanting to put together a campaign for our newspapers that it's a message to advertisers to do well and do good at the same time by by advertising in their local newspapers. It's to their benefit, and it's to the community's benefit by supporting quality local news. So I wanna turn now to maybe a topic far afield, but trust is also crucial and at play as we think about how technology evolves and how artificial intelligence is going to impact the industry. And I think its potential has a—there's a huge potential that this will impact the economics of local news as well as the advertising market in general. So I'm wondering if you've put any thought into how AI may impact what we do in digital marketing. 

Kinney [00:32:09]: So we've been testing several different methodologies with AI for, sheesh, almost a year in our work, and it has a place that is a very important place. It can help analyze data quickly, find a headline in data, you know, to help us tell a story, whether it's about our own internal financials or a client's results. And while you can create content with it, it's important, so important to recognize that plagiarism needs to be considered. Fact checking is even more important. It speaks with authority and very quickly and could be entirely wrong. So we tend to use it for ideas, about headline writing, about can you take this piece and tell it in this voice? And we like, it's inspiration. But it never in any way is replacing humans in what they're writing. It's just supporting and making them more efficient at what they're doing. 

Kinney [00:33:14]: Another thing we've used it for is content conversion. So if I have a training manual, one training manual, and then I need to teach somebody how to do something else, I can say, teach a client teach a client how to optimize their Google business profile in this voice, and we upload our training manual, and then it'll help spit something out that our team can then massage and work with. So, AI is important, and I know that there's a lot of important work being done right now about how newsrooms can leverage AI to drive efficiency, and ideas and inspiration as well. For me, it's all on the marketing side and how we're leveraging it, but it is part of what we're doing for sure. 

Regan-Porter [00:34:00]: And to some extent, I think it may help underscore the value proposition of quality local news because these content farms will be empowered in ways we haven't seen before, but no one's going down—AI is not going down, you know, to your local city council. It is not surfacing what what's going on with that business down the street. So the more you can lean into your unique content and the trust you have with your audience, I think that's gonna be valuable, not only to your readers and listeners, but also to your advertisers. 

Kinney [00:34:36]: Absolutely. And when—where you use it can be on areas like using data to tell a story, like analyze home sales data in Grand Junction over the last 5 years and upload it. What is the median sales price, or what are you doing? And AI is incredibly powerful, at data driven journalism or other journalism where you need to identify trends or things quickly, versus expecting that it's gonna, like, be writing stories. 

Partnering to provide digital solutions 

Regan-Porter [00:35:04]: And so we've talked a lot about all the additional work that sales teams, marketing teams need to take on to evolve, from AI to understanding, you know, all of these different services, and, to even have that conversation. So while, you know, this is something you're vested in, because you provide services as a business, let's talk a little bit about how you do intelligently partner because you're not gonna master all of these technologies and services that your clients, you know, may want and may need. 

Kinney [00:35:46]: Right. And, you know, large media companies have spent many, many millions of dollars trying to replicate it. I have, in building Dream Local. It's an incredibly complex business to build. And one of the reasons I did it in a white label way to power other media companies is the bet the easiest way to be efficient and affordable is if you do it a lot. Right? So a local, a small local entity, it's a huge challenge to profitably serve a business with what they need. And so I think it's about looking at your internal team and your strengths. Look at, you know, survey your client base and your advertisers and say, Hey, we're considering offering a lot of these solutions. 

Kinney [00:36:32]: You know, what ones are the most important to you? Where, where do you see gaps? And how can we be of assistance to you? And partnering with a solution provider—and there's several of us out there, it's not just me, obviously—is a really smart way to be able to profitably serve your clients. I can say people will—some objections that I often hear are, well, it takes you two days to respond or something like that. And the idea is for a few $100 a month, it should take you that long too. Like, you can't afford to call me 10 times a day for a client who's spending $300 or $400. Right? So there are reasons, you know, some of the workflows work the way they do, I think. But that said, it's about finding a partner that you feel can collaborate with you that has a strong value system similar to yours. I tend to, really enjoy working with smaller partners because my organization, we have a 93% retention rate. 

Kinney [00:37:33]: Like, we, when somebody sells something, we keep that client happy, and that tends to really appeal to smaller organizations that, you know, really have a small sales team that need to keep every single client that they get and wanna make sure that their clients that they see, like, at the school buffet, fair or whatever are gonna be happy. But there are other other solutions that, you know, maybe are very advertising-focused or something that feels like a fit. So I think it's about really knowing what the right partnership is for you because that's what it is. It's not a vendor. It's your partner in serving your local community and then taking the time to understand how to tell the story to the advertiser of what their results are. 

Selling as a client partner 

Regan-Porter [00:38:16]: So let's end with with getting specific. And particularly for those who are either basically new to digital advertising, or they're looking to expand their services and up their game. So I wanna get to specific services they might offer that do have those margins that you were talking about earlier. But maybe let's start with paint a picture of what a different approach might be to a client, and starting that conversation with, in a more collaborative partnering way than just, you know, do you wanna buy an ad and reach this audience? And I can also give you Facebook and Google. 

Kinney [00:38:51]: It really starts with asking the advertiser questions. Asking for 15 minutes of their time and finding out what's working for them or has worked in the past, what isn't working, and really what their goals are going forward, and also a deep understanding of who their best customer is. And once you get that information, then you can start to put a picture together of how some of these digital, solutions might be a fit. So whether it be, let me run a contest, ugliest couch contest, on my newspaper Facebook page for a furniture company, and somebody has to submit their email address to win to help that furniture company build an email list that they can market to and help the newspaper build an email list that they can market to. You know, that's a very simple strategy that isn't very complex to sell, but it provides so much lasting value to an advertiser over and above putting an ad in that says couches are on sale, you know, and they can't necessarily track whether it worked or not. When you deliver thousands of email addresses, that's a totally different ballgame. So that's one example, that is a simplified one, but that I've seen work over and over and over again in newspaper markets. And, you know, it's about really learning how to be a nurse and ask the probing questions and then partner with a doctor who can diagnose the right solution from those answers that they bring. 

Kinney [00:40:26]: And I can tell you I'll offer to your readers the training I mentioned earlier. It's two recordings. I'll send you those the links to those recordings, and you're welcome to put them in the show notes. So anybody listening today, if they wanna see, like, what are all these different digital services and how do they work together to help my advertise. That might be a great way for people to learn to see if it's even something that they wanna endeavor to learn more about. 

Regan-Porter [00:40:52]: Yeah. That that would be great. And you mentioned the email, gathering the email addresses. And so that is what the industry calls first party data. And newspapers already have that for print, because you're sent, you know, to this if you have subscriptions, you've got their home address. And I think that's super important for newsrooms as they evolve, and particularly, that's one way that I think guard against the threat that AI may pose on the consumption end. You know, if you're just asking ChatGPT for answers and not going to a website. Well, if you've got a good newsletter, you're reaching your customers directly. 

Regan-Porter [00:41:26]: If you've got those direct relationship, that's important. It's also important for businesses. To the extent they are learning, they can't rely on organic Facebook posts. Right? So they need to have good first party data so they're not also not beholden to the tech platforms. 

Kinney [00:41:41]: Email list growth is one of the primary things we talk to every single client about building and growing that list, and that media companies are no different, for that exact reason. Plus, there's, you know, the same methodology of frequency with advertising applies to nurturing through email. Right? People need to see something multiple times before they really respond to it. And, when you own your own list, it's a much more cost effective strategy to do that nurturing versus a paid advertising, pay-to-play, strategy. So I agree with you. Email's very critical, and even very small businesses, we're working very hard with them on that. 

The menu of services 

Regan-Porter [00:42:28]: Can we maybe give listeners a sense of the menu of services and maybe even potential margins that they could offer? So at the low end, I think, and you can confirm this, would be programmatic, you know, ads, basic Facebook and Google placements. And then you got things like Google My Business, you know, SEO, etcetera. What is that list of—what's that menu look like that people should maybe look into? 

Kinney [00:42:56]: For my newspaper partners, I always say, when you see my list, don't despair that it is so long. Just know whatever your clients need, we can do it. But for the sake of this discussion, you're right. Facebook, Google, advertising, and programmatic tends to be, you know, an average of 15% margin or less, depending on the programmatic, for a client for a newspaper. And that's why it's a small portion of what we sell, but it's an important part. It's the suntan lamp for the client, but that's it. But then there are other avenues like TikTok, Pinterest, Snap, a lot of other areas that we sell paid advertising in addition to audience extension and retargeting that can be in the 50 plus percent margin range. And that's a 5-0, not a 15. 

Kinney [00:43:47]: Right? That's a big shift. Website development, social organic posting, blogging, and email management, All of those tend to be a minimum of 40% margins. And we have some partners that are making, you know, a 100% margins on our work there. The one thing I will say is don't make the assumption that your clients can't afford it. My smaller newspaper friends, probably remember the days where we used to abbreviate classified ads to save our clients money. Like your job is to make the marketing work. And so, so many times my newspaper partners think that their client can't afford it. And a TV partner will walk in and charge double my prices, and get it. 

Kinney [00:44:38]: So their margin discussion is really important, but it's also important to choose solutions that are going to drive ROI because an advertiser will spend more money if it works. And the good news about digital is you can track it. 

Regan-Porter [00:43:46]: Well, I hope this has been helpful to listeners. I think it's been, fascinating to me to dig into a little bit. And, if people want more information about you and Dream Local, where would they go? 

Kinney [00:45:04]: They can find the business at dreamlocal.com, or they can email me at shannon@dreamlocal.com, and I'll put the free training sessions in your show notes. 

Regan-Porter [00:45:17]: Great. Well, thanks so much, and I appreciate it. 

Kinney [00:45:20]: Great. Thank you so much. Have a good rest of your day. 

Regan-Porter [00:45:25]: Thank you for listening to the Local News Matters podcast. Never miss an episode by subscribing in your favorite podcast player and sign up for our newsletter at lnmpod.com. And thanks to our production partners at Pirate Audio. Pirate Audio believes every community deserves great things to listen to, and they're on a mission to help local newsrooms reach their communities via audio. If you're interested in starting a podcast or need production support for an existing one, let me know, and I'll be happy to connect you. If you have guest recommendations, others doing interesting and innovative work in local news, let me know through the contact form at the website, lnmpod.com. 

 

Past guests on the Local News Matters podcast include: Larry Ryckman (The Colorado Sun),  Frank Mungeam (Local Media Association), Kelly Ann Scott (Alabama Media Group), Sara Lomax and S. Mitra Kalita (URL Media), Elizabeth Hansen Shapiro (National Trust for Local News), Mike Rispoli and Richard Young (via When the People Decide), Sarabeth Berman (American Journalism Project), Rabbi Hillel Goldberg and Shana Goldberg (Intermountain Jewish News),  Lyndsay C. Green (via The Journalism Salute), Rashad Mahmood and Mark Glaser (New Mexico Local News Fund), Christian Vanek and Barbara Hardt (The Mountain-Ear), Dan Grech (BizHack), Zack Richner (Easy Tax Credits), Tracie Powell (Pivot Fund), Dan Oshinsky (Inbox Collective), Linda Shapley (via What Works), Yehong Zhu and Jake Seaton (Zette, Column), Charity Huff (January Spring), Joaquin Alvarado and Dave Perry (Aurora Sentinel), Steve Waldman (Rebuild Local News), Maritza Félix (Conecta Arizona), Michael Bolden (American Press Institute), Jeff Roberts and Corey Hutchins (CFOIC, Colorado College), Eve Pearlman and Erica Anderson (Spaceship Media), Jennifer Brandel (Hearken, Democracy SOS), Corey Hutchins with Bay Edwards, Todd Chamberlain and Raleigh Burleigh (Sopris Sun).